Pilots, Gigs & Cutters, Scilly

Pilotage was a major employment for Scillonians from the late seventeenth century till the beginning of the twentieth century.  During some periods, on some of the smaller islands, pilotage and associated salvage was the only employment.  Accidents were common, viz:

1700 - Two St Agnes pilots were drown when their pilot boat overturned whilst trying to save a shipwrecked crew stranded for many days on a rock.  Ref. Rev. Woodley.

1771 - St Mary's pilot responsible for the shipwreck of the Joseph & Betsy - Exeter Mercury 01/02/1771.

1791 - Scilly pilot boat, lost between the outer Gilstone & Penninis Head, 11 drowned. [ssmi] & [gcios]

1796 - Times Wednesday, February 3, 1796, Issue 3508: "A vessel (supposed to be American) is on shore on the Western Isle of Scilly- Severn people drowned in attempting to go to their assistance". See below.

1796 - Times: Friday, March 4, 1796, Issue 3534 (Second Report) – Loss of seven Scillonian Pilots

PILOTS DROWNED at the SCILLY ISLANDS – On the 27th January last, SEVEN PILOTS perished, attempting to give assistance to a vessel [May have been American, Ed.] in difficulties on the Western Rocks of the Scilly Islands, who have left unprotected six Widows and twenty-seven Children, in whose behalf a subscription is opened at the following Houses, where Particulars may be seen, viz Messrs Ransom and Co. Pall Mall; Messrs Hammersley and Co. ditto; Messrs Drummonds, Charing-cross; Messrs Boldero and Co. Cornhill; Messrs Masters and Co, Chancery-lane; and at the Bar of Lloyd’s Coffee-house.
There is a long list of subscribers, only those from Scilly are listed here:
Captain Bowen £10 10s 0d; Lieutenant Johns £1 1s 0d; Jas. Dunn, for Underwriters and Owners £5 5s 0d; Captain Kinsman, Fox cutter £3 3s 0d; Mr Lemon, Collector £1 1s 0d; Ensign Gahan £1 1s 0d; Mr Willcox £1 1s 0d; Capt Alex White £1 1s 0d; A. M. Passenger with ditto. £1 1s 0d; Captain Wm. Clarke £0 10s 6d; J. Watts, formally saved from wreck £1 1s 0d & Sundry Shopkeepers, &c £13 18s 6d.

1802 - Wreck of the Fortune, Four Scillonian pilots boarded the derelict vessel in an attempt at salvage but she sank suddenly drowning two of the pilots.  [ssmi] & [Times: March 8, 1802, Issue 5359]

1815 - Scillonian Pilots Charles Jackson & James Tregarthen,  were drowned trying to rescue the crew of the Queen Charlotte from Scilly Rock.  Charles Jackson had just been married and James Tregarthen, who had just returned to Scilly having been a prisoner in France for eight and a half years, left a widow and nine children.  A subscription list was set up and £100 was given by Lloyd's and 50 guineas from the Duke of Leeds.  [gcios & Times: February 7, 1815, Issue 9438]

1816, December -  Seven members of a gig crew attending the vessel Mary of Liverpool, Master Burstall from Rio de Janeiro, drowned when returning from a vessel having placed a pilot onboard.  [gcios p10 & West Briton 20/12/1816]

1821 - Three crew of a gig were drowned while returning from putting a pilot on board a ship. [gcios]
1821- Also Morning Post; May, Scilly May 24th.  The Sea Horse, Pilot Boat, Wm Tregarthen, Master and licenced pilot, foundered two miles off Crow Sound, when the master Wm Tregarthen, Wm Nance, and Wm Phillips three as good pilots as ever Scilly produced, were drowned; the two former leaving a wife and eight children each, the latter a wife and three children, unprovided for, with the loss of boat & c. worth 200/. Which belonged to six of these industrious men.

1821, December - Four (Five?) pilots aboard the Lord Nelson Preventative cutter, lost near the Crow Bar, St Mary's.  Eighteen children reported as having lost fathers. [Royal Cornwall Gazette 01/12/1821]

1823 - Times: April 1, 1823, Issue 11834 – Loss of Scillonian Pilots.

“Scilly, March 25 – A most melancholy and distressing accident happened here last week.  During the prevalence of one of those severe gales (or rather heavy storms) which have been almost incessant here for the last four or five months, a vessel appeared off the back of Tresco Island with a signal for a pilot flying, although, as it subsequently appeared, she had one on board from Bryher, and the flag was kept displayed from some oversight!  A row boat from Tresco, having on board a branch pilot and four other men, proceeded towards her, but when within less distance than the length of the vessel , the sea running tremendously high, the boat was overset, and the whole of her crew precipitated into the waves.  The pilot on board earnestly begged the captain to either lower a boat, or put about the ship; but this he refused, alleging his apprehensions that the safety of his vessel would be endangered.  Had the least exertion of the above kind been made, it is probable that all the unfortunate men would have been saved; whereas, on the contrary, three of them, after a faint struggle, (during which their shrieks were heart rendering,) sunk to rise no more!  The other two, having been in the water some hours, were taken up, apparently lifeless, by a boat which put off from Tresco for that purpose; and, by Divine blessing, were at length restored to animation by the judicious means recommended to be used in such cases by the Royal Humane Society, and which were immediately applied by Mr. Molloy, surgeon, and continued with the greatest skill and perseverance so long as necessary.  One of the persons drowned has left a wife and four children; the other two were single men.  They were all of exemplary character – West Briton

1826, January - William Jenkins of Bryher, along with six crew member of the brig John & Ann of London drowned whilst trying to make the safety of New Grimsby Harbour, Tresco [West Briton & Royal Cornwall Gazette c. Feb. 1826]

1828 - Five crew of a pilot gig (eight crew) were lost on the Golden Ball Bar [gcios & ssmi]

1833 - Six crew of a St Martin's row boat (ten crew) was swamped and sunk near the Lion Rock trying to put a pilot aboard a brig.  They were; T. Godard, Mr Woodcock, John Nance, Mr Odgers, & two Mr Ashfords.  Mr T. Godard left a large family. [ssmi] & [gcios]

1885 - A William Hicks, crewman of the Plump which capsized at Yellow Ledge attending the wreck of the S. S. Sussex, drowned.

1907, October - William Thomas Hicks (known as Billy Cook), placed on board the seven-masted schooner, Thomas W. Lawson, drowned when the vessel sunk.

1909, February - Charles Hicks & Charles Mumford were drowned while 'wrecking' on the steamship Plympton which had struck the Lethegus Reef and suddenly turned over and partially sank.

List of the Licensed Trinity Pilots 

These lists are courtesy of 'Gigs and Cutters of the Isles of Scilly' by A. J. Jenkins c. 1975.  Details of the Cutters can be found on, pages 46 to 53 and the Gigs  pages 56 to 69.  Many of these are names that come up in the various historic texts are reproduced in this web site. 


A. Z. (Ahzed) Active Agnes Antelope Argus
Arnoldi Atlantic [Wrecked] [1] Atlantic II, Cutter No. 5. Bull Challenger
Champion Cyclops Dan Dash Defiance [Wrecked] [2]
Earner Eclat Evening Star [Seized by Customs 1793] Ezra Fly [Wrecked] [4]
Fortitude Fortitude II Garland Gem I (Wrecked) [3] Gem II
Gleaner Good Intent [Destroyed for Smuggling 1788] Grace Gratitude Happy Return I Destroyed for Smuggling 1790]
Happy Return II Industry Jane Lion [Lost at sea] Lively
Lord Nelson [Lost 1821, see above.] Mars [Run down & wrecked in the Bristol channel] Pet [5] Presto (No. 17) Prosperous [Wrecked]
New Prosperous [Lost off Lundy Island] Providence Queen I [Wrecked at Aberthaw, Cardiff] Queen II [Put ashore on St Martin's to rot] Ranger [Lost at sea]
Ranger II Rapid Speedwell [Destroyed for Smuggling 1830] Swift Three Brothers [Lost at sea]
Topsy [Coastguard Cutter @ St Mary's] Trial [Wrecked at Breaksea Point] Union Victory Waterloo [Wrecked] [6]

[1] - The cutter Atlantic dragged her moorings in St Mary's Pool, hit rocks and became a total wreck on 22/1/1868.

[2] - The cutter Defiance, 25 tons of Samson, dragged her moorings, hit rocks and became a total wreck on 5/11/1844.

[3] - The pilot cutter Gem broke adrift from her moorings on the 13/4/1874 and was wrecked. Her destruction was a great loss to the crew it being their sole means of livelihood.

[4] - The yawl Fly, 18 tons, of Samson, dragged her moorings, hit rocks and became a total wreck on 2/12/1837.

[5] - The pilot cutter Pet was driven from her mooring on the 11/1/1857.  She was badly damaged but later repaired.

[6] - The cutter Waterloo, 25 tons, was struck by a wave and sunk almost immediately on the 25/12/1840.  The crew escaped in their punt but were ruined by the loss of their vessel. [ssmi]

[7]- The Rise and Fall of the Pilotage Trade in the Isles of Scilly, 1800-1900 by Sara Stirling (See Abstract

See also notes on Smuggling


A & B {P} Albion b.1844 {P} Bee (around in 1838 {P] Bernice b.1830 {P} Bonnet b.1830
Blucher (around in 1830) Boot Briton (around in 1841) {P} Bull b.1838 Challenger (around in 1829)
Champion (around in 1830) {P} Campernell {P} Czar b. 1879 Cuckoo {P} Cetewayo
Daring (around in 1895) Dart Daniel {P} Dolly Varden b.1873 {P} Dove
Defiance (around in 1829) {Th} Elaine (around in 1911) Emperor (around in 1902) {P} Empress Franklin
{T} Gipsy b.1858 {P} Gleaner {P} Golden Eagle b.1870 Guinivere (St Agnes?) Galatea (St Martin's) - (around in 1930s)
Hound (St Mary's)  Note. Hope I c.1827 (Tresco) Hope II c.1835 (St Mary's) Horse  (St Mary's c.1821) Jolly c.1828
Juno (around in 1838) {G} Klondyke b.1837 {T} Leo Lion (around c.1829) Lloyds Black
Lloyds Green Lloyds White {P} Lily b.1873 {P} Linnet Longkeel (Tresco)
{P} March {P} Marene b.1871 Mistletoe Monarch (around in 1913) Mohammed I??
Normandy - Gig? {T} O & M Old Town Gig (around in 1821) {P} Palace (Private) Prince (St Mary's)
{P} Queen (Largest ever built) Railway (Private) Railway Boat? St Vincent Sulton
Slippen (renamed Bernice) Shah (around in 1873) {P} Sussex b.1886 Swift {P} Thomas b. 1838
Topsy Unicorn (around in 1836) Venus (around in 1828) Wasp (St Agnes) Whaler (St Mary's)
{P} Zelda b. 1874 New Gigs (1975) 1 - Serica 2 - Dolphin 3 - Nornor

{P} - built by Peters of St Mawes, Cornwall
{Th} - built by Thomas of St Ives.
{T} - built by Tiddy of St Mary's
{G} - built by Glyas of St Mary's

Other Bibliography: